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Want a Mood Boost? Stand Up Straight!

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Fake it till you make it is an approach to health that inspires high school coaches to prescribe, "walking it off" for minor injuries. But did you know that fake it till you make it may also help you feel happier and less stressed? New studies show that your posture can greatly affect your mood and even feelings of depression. Find out more about this curious connection below!

A lot can be done to improve your mood and mental health from the inside out. Going out in the sun, exercising, and eating healthy foods can all work to promote a healthy mental state.

But did you also know that there is an even simpler trick you can employ that will improve your mental health and fight depression? All you have to do is stand and sit up straight.

Studies show that when a person sits or stands in a position the body reads as powerful and confident, it has a positive effect on that person’s mental health, while individuals who slouch and have poor posture are more likely to feel sad, scared, and depressed. Read on to find out how changing your posture can benefit your physical and mental health below.

Studies Supporting the Posture-Mood Connection

In 2012, a survey published in the journal Biofeedback indicated there was a link between posture and mental health, particularly mood, anxiety, and stress. In the survey, a professor of health education instructed 110 students to walk down a hallway in a slouched position, then skip down the hallway. The survey asked the students to compare the difference in their moods after each trip.

All students reported feeling less energy after slouching and more after skipping. The students also took an additional survey to rate their depression levels. The students with the lowest amount of energy reported feeling the most depressed. Students who were more depressed reported feeling even more depressed after the slouched walk than did students who reported less daily depression.

Although the study researchers stated that posture is not the only treatment for depression, they stated in the published article, “what we demonstrated is that in this epidemic of depression, there are simple interventions you can do to help yourself."  

According to Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, slouching affects levels of both cortisol and testosterone. According to Cuddy, nonverbal signals not only send out messages to others, but also to ourselves. Slouching reduces testosterone levels (linked with feelings of power and confidence) and raises cortisol levels (linked with feelings of stress).

According to Cuddy’s research, the testosterone boost that comes from proper posture is linked to better mental function. Psychologist Erik Peper states that slouching is a defensive position that makes it harder to do abstract problem solving or think creatively. More dramatic slouching is linked to more feelings of depression, according to physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier.

In 2014, a study published in Health Psychology examined the effects of posture on mood for 74 individuals. The participants were assigned a posture position and taped there, to prevent them from moving. According to the study, “the upright participants reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited, and strong, while the slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish.”

Individuals with good posture also had feelings of greater self-esteem and fewer negative emotions.

Why Slouching Feels Comfortable

Many individuals don’t like sitting up straight because they complain it hurts. According to Bouvier, slouching is a vicious cycle where longer periods of slouching lead to the weakening of core muscles, which makes it more painful to sit upright.

When slouching, the job of holding up the weight of the body is placed on the spine, rather than on the core muscles where it should go. If sitting up straight hurts you, your core muscles are weak. It comes as no surprise that many Americans have weak core muscles as most individuals sit for at least 10-15 hours a day.

The Physical Damage of Slouching

In a survey of over 2,000 people, Bouvier found that constant slouching caused neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, and headaches. Some individuals even reported stomach pain, due to the stomach doubling over while slouching. Slouching also places stress on the ligaments in the body, spinal joints, and spinal tissue. This leads to problems like strain injuries, rib or breathing pain, neurological changes, and osteoarthritic changes, according to Dr. David Gentile, an osteopathic physician and posture expert.

The Mental Damage of Slouching

As the studies outlined above found, slouching is not only bad for you physically, but it can also lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Simply by working to sit up straight, you can improve your mood.

Slouching increases the feelings of insecurity, stress, fear, and anxiety. In our minds, we view slouching, collapsed positions as weak, and extended, straight positions as strong. You unconsciously respond to others in varying postures, and you respond to yourself the same way. If you sit in a “weak” position, your brain is going to believe that you are weak and feel more stress, anxiety, and depression.

Easy Ways to Boost Mood Through Posture

There are several tricks you can employ to improve your posture and see a lift in mood- both in the short term and the long term.

Posture expert and biochemistry graduate from Princeton University, Esther Gokhale, believes that the ideal spinal alignment for the human body is a “J” shape, rather than the standard “S” shape that many adults adopt. According to Gokhale, when children are learning to walk, they naturally assume the “J” spinal shape, but modern seats and the modern lifestyle of constant sitting encourage poor posture over time.

The “J” shape is a straight spine with the rear slightly away from the body and the pelvis tilted forward. If a person was wearing a belt, the buckle would sit slightly lower than the back of the belt. This posture is opposite from some posture advocates who believe tucking the rear in is a healthier way to stand or sit.

Gokhale has treated hundreds of individuals with back pain, and most have reported improvement in pain levels and mood after switching to this “primal” form of standing and sitting. According to labor and delivery experts, this position is also helpful for preparing babies to enter the birth canal at the proper angle.

With one simple trick, you can boost your mood without doing anything but standing and sitting up straight.

Sit and Stand with the J Spine

Standing with the J spine is simple, but if you are not used to standing or sitting up straight, it will make you sore after a few minutes. Here is how you can sit or stand using the J spine:

While Standing: Stand normally with arms on either side of your body. Bring the shoulders up, then drop them gently back and down. This should straighten your upper spine. Tuck your pelvis forward slightly, bringing your rear away from your body. Do not tilt it so dramatically so that your back starts to have a reverse “C” curve. Your back should look relatively straight and your rear should stick out slightly.

While Sitting: Sit up straight and bring the shoulders up and down gently to straighten the upper spine. Tilt the pelvis forward slightly. It will feel as if you are ready to take action at any moment and you will feel more alert. Start sitting and standing this way for a few minutes a day just until it starts to hurt. When you think about it during the day, correct your alignment. Within a few months, it will become second-nature to stand and sit this way.

Try Power Poses

According to Cuddy, standing in what she calls, “power poses” can have a significant influence on your mood. These poses will improve your mood and help stretch the muscles. Stand in each pose for about 2 minutes at a time, several times a day.

In addition to standing with good posture, Cuddy recommends standing in the “wonder woman” power pose with both feet spread far apart and hands on the hips.

The “victory” pose, where you stand with feet together, arms straight up in a V-shape and your chin tilted upward, can also influence your mood by making you feel more powerful and in control.

Try to Stand More Often

Sitting for extended periods isn’t healthy for a variety of reasons. Aside from slouching and alignment issues, sitting can also cause circulation problems, lead to blood clots, and hamper effective digestion. All of these issues can lead to a lower mood and an increased chance of feeling depressed.

Simply by standing for longer periods throughout the day, you can improve your mood and mental health.

Start small, by taking standing and walking breaks for 10 minutes out of every hour.

From there, move to longer periods of standing or walking. Treadmill desks and standing desks are gaining in popularity and can help prevent some of the problems associated with office jobs.

Walk More

Exercise has been linked with better mental health for decades. The benefits of walking are even greater if the walker maintains proper posture during daily walks.

According to studies, individuals see the greatest health benefits when they walk at least 8,000 steps a day, which is around 4 miles. This walking can occur at the office, at home, and on scheduled exercise trips. A pedometer can help you track the number of steps you take in a day.

Mental Benefits of Good Posture

· Higher self-esteem

· Happier mood

· Reduced fear

· Stronger pulse responses

Can Good Posture Cure Depression?

Good posture alone is not likely to cure any form of depression, however, sitting and standing up straight can instantly work to improve your current mood. Just try it. If you are slouching now, with your head tilted forward (most people assume this position while looking at a computer screen), straighten your spine, move your head back slightly, and tilt your pelvis forward slightly. You will instantly feel more confident and alert. Over time, sitting in this position will send signals to your brain to produce hormones that lead to a healthy mental state.

What Else Helps with Mental Health?

As mentioned in the intro to this article, exercise, getting enough sun, and eating the right foods are all vital to positive mental health. Individuals with depression or other mental diseases tend to have lower levels of serotonin, which can hinder the body from making feel-good hormones.

If you notice that you often have a low mood or low self-confidence, supplementing with 5HPT (the chemical the body uses to manufacture serotonin) can be helpful in supporting mental health.

Good Posture: Part of a Multi-Part Mental Health Plan

You wouldn’t want to destroy your healthy diet by eating chocolate cake every day, so it is also important not to damage your mental health by sitting or standing in positions that tell your brain to produce stress, fear, and anxiety hormones. Slouching, slumping, and sitting for prolonged periods all have an effect on your mental health. For the next month, try actively sitting and standing up straight while adding a few extra steps to your day. You may be surprised at how much better of a mood you are in each day!





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